First World War Project
Charles Peter BOOKER (of Lynsted and Norton)
b. July 1883
Lance Corporal, Service Number 40226
"UNTIL THE DAY BREAK AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY."
Charles has the dubious honour of being Lynsted's final loss before the Armistice, although we will commemorate a further three who died post war.
Charles was born in Horsham, Sussex, in July 1883 to George William, an agricultural labourer, and Mary Ann (née Johnson). He was christened in Roffey Church, Sussex, on 26 August 1883.
Charles was the fourth of ten children, his elder siblings being William George, Fanny Clara and Lilian, and his younger siblings Alfred, James Edward, Thomas Samuel, Alice Amelia, George (who was born in 1892 and sadly died within days) and Ann.
His mother died in 1898, aged just 40. By the time of the 1901 Census the family had scattered. Charles was boarding in Hartley Green, near Sole Street, Kent, and working as a grocer/domestic. His father and brother Thomas were both living at Hill Side, Stalisfield, and both were working as agricultural labourers. Thomas would later move to Norton, where he was 'Second Kennel man' for the Tickham Foxhounds. James was boarding at Courtlodge Farm, Stalisfield, also as an agricultural labourer. Fanny, now married, was living at Little Owens Court, Selling, and had taken in her sisters Alice and Ann.
On 6 April 1907, Charles, who was now living at Hinxhill, near Wye, married Ellen Mary Newman at Boughton Aluph. By the time of the 1911 Census, Charles was working as a cowman and he and Ellen were living in Forge Cottage, Kingsnorth, Ashford, along with their two sons, William Charles, born in May 1908, and Reginald James, born in January 1910. The family would soon move to Tickham, when Charles took up the position of bailiff to Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert McDougall of Loyterton Farm.
We have found little information about the beginnings of Charles's military service. However, we know he enlisted in Sittingbourne in March 1916, initially into the Dragoon Guards with a service number of 13469. At some time he was transferred into 10th (Service) Battalion, South Wales Borderers, (1st Gwent) (10th SWB) and at some time promoted to Lance Corporal.
The 10th SWB formed part of the 38th (Welsh) Division, 115th Brigade and during the initial stage of the Battle of the Somme fought heroically and sustained heavy losses. The Brigade report gave a "warts and all" description of the impossible situation in which they found themselves around the area of Mametz Wood July 1916:
In these operations the difficulties of wood fighting were very much underestimated. The Divisional Orders for the Operations on the 7th July laid down a set programme for the attack to be carried out in different stages with artillery co-operation to be carried out at fixed times, thus allowing no provision for the unexpected which invariably happens in war. Owing to the dense undergrowth it would have been impracticable to have carried out the programme for the attack as laid down by the times given even had no opposition been encountered. Though the task of the Brigade was part of a combined operation its action was more or less detached and it would therefore have been better if the GOC Brigade had been consulted as to the detail of the artillery assistance that would be required and given fuller control in the employment of the artillery allotted to his sector.
As it was artillery assistance could only be obtained after reference to higher authority which meant delay and ineffectiveness in its employment. The weather was bad, making the going over the open very heavy and the communication trenches almost impassable from the mud.
The difficulties and delay in keeping touch and passing orders when telephone wires were cut and reliance had to be placed entirely on runners, were well illustrated during these operations. As an instance of the time taken to get through from Advanced Brigade Headquarters to the forming line it may be stated that it took the GOC Brigade going as hard as he could partly across the open and partly along communication trenches over ¾ of an hour to get from POMMIERS REDOUBT to CATERPILLAR NULLAH a distance of about 2,000 yards.
On the 10th July the orders issued to the 115th Brigade were to relieve the 113th and 114th Brigades in MAMETZ WOOD; no intimation was given that an immediate prosecution of the attack was to be carried out. The majority of the Brigade had already been in action the greater part of the previous day and night. The Units of the 113th and 114th Brigades were much scattered and disorganised and no well-defined line of defence had been established from which to further push the attack. Re-organisation, collection of units and establishment of this line and thorough reconnaissance to ascertain what opposition might be expected were the first essentials before launching any further attack. These were in process of accomplishment when the order to attack was received and arrangements were at once made to carry out these orders. The Staff Officer bringing the Order was apparently unaware of the programme laid down for the artillery on this day, or at any rate failed to inform the GOC of any part of it which would interfere with the proposed dispositions. Consequently, just before the times laid down for the attack, our artillery opened a heavy bombardment on the Northern portion of the wood which caused considerable casualties amongst our own men, shook them and necessitated the postponement of the attack. The Artillery co-operation asked for was not carried out, probably owing to the delay caused by interruption to communications, consequently the attack was impeded not only by the denseness of the undergrowth but also by the want of assistance from the Artillery. In spite of these difficulties, difficulties which must occur in war, the Units pushed on and a lodgement was effected in the N.E. corner of the wood, which, however, could not be retained owing to the exhaustion of the men and the want of further reinforcements. To lessen these difficulties, however, it is essential that when an immediate operation is ordered the fullest possible information as to any action by the other armies which is likely to affect the operation projected should be given to the Commander who has to carry out the task in order that he may make his dispositions accordingly.
Casualties for the period from 6th to 12th July were:-
Officers: Killed 17; wounded 44; wounded at duty 9;
Other Ranks:- killed 167; wounded 709; missing 162.
It is acknowledged that much gallantry was observed during this advance, which was ultimately successful because of the initiative of the junior officers, with NCOs, and sometimes other ranks, taking over when officers fell.
Charles's battalion had been hard hit and, although they remained at the front until the end of 1916, they acted only in reserve. The first few months of 1917 were spent in camp getting back up to strength and training. Their first major action came on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31 July - 2 August). Just a few day later they would again suffer heavy losses at the Battle of Langemark (16 - 18 August).
Unlike Christmas 1916, which had been spent in the trenches, Charles's last Christmas was celebrated in the relative peace of Estaires. The battalion diary notes:
"Xmas Day. After church parade Companies marched to the places selected for dinner. A, B, D and HQ Coys dined all together in the School Room. C Coy and Transport were in the Sergeants Mess.
No training was carried out.
Sergeants Mess dinner was held at 6pm, at which speeches were made by the Commanding Officer and Adjutant."
January to July 1918 was relatively quiet for Charles's battalion. A lot of training, working parties and trench repairing was being undertaken. The first significant fighting took place at the 2nd Battle of Bapaume (21 August - 3 September), which resulted in the loss of 57 men.
British forces were now massing at the Hindenburg Line, where several important battles took place between 12 September and 12 October. It was imperative that allied forces broke through this line if victory was to be achieved and the war brought to an end.
Charles's battalion played a significant role from the first day of the offensive. He saw action at the Battle of Havrincourt where they lost seven men. A further five men were lost on 18 September in the Battle of Épehy.
By now the morale of the troops was high as the Hindenburg Line had been broken through and good progress was being made. Charles's battalion war diary best details his final few weeks:-
|Date||Summary events and Information|
|20th September 1918||Quiet during the day but enemy shelled heavily before dusk. Relieved by 17th Division and proceeded to LECHELLE.|
|21st Sept||LECHELLE: Battalion had a good rest moved from here to LE TRANSLOY by route march starting at 2.30 p.m.|
|21st-27th Sept||LE TRANSLOY: Reorganizing, training, and resting at LE TRANSLOY.|
|28th Sept||Left LE TRANSLOY by motor-bus and proceeded to SOREL-le-GRAND. Battalion billeted in Nissen huts. Waiting to move forward should the attack be very successful.|
|29th Sept||Did not move but Battalion is placed under one hour's notice. Day spent in training.|
|30th Sept||Still in SOREL-le-GRAND. Training and organizing for further efforts. All men are being trained in the use of German Bombs. The victories from all fronts are raising the morale of the men to a very high degree. Although during September the Battalion has not advanced so much as in August it has given the Bosche no rest when in action.|
|1st Oct||SOREL-LE-GRAND: [Map: 57c.,S.E. 1/20,000 – V.24.b.8.8] The Battalion at SOREL-LEGRAND. The day was spent in re-fitting and Training, Platoon Drill, Physical Training and instruction in use of German Hand Grenades being the main subjects.|
|2nd Oct||SOREL-LE-GRAND: The Battalion at SOREL-LE-GRAND. The following training was carried out – Physical Training, Rifle Grenade Firing, Throwing German Hand Grenades, Platoon and Company in attack.|
|3rd Oct||SOREL-LE-GRAND: The Battalion at SOREL-LE-GRAND. The Battalion having received orders to move, marched off in S.E. direction through HEUDICOURT, passed South of EPEHY and halted North of RONSSOY where Battalion was accommodated in a trench for the night.|
|4th Oct||LEMPIRE: [Map: 62.c, 1,40,000; V.24.b.8.8] The Battalion at LEMPIRE. Orders were received to move to BONY and the Battalion marched off at 06.15 by Platoons at 150 yards distance. During the march the captured HINDENBURG LINE was crossed. The Battalion arrived at BONY about 12.00 hours and pending further orders rested in the HINDENBURG SUPPORT TRENCH. The Officers reconnoitred the front held by the 500th Division upon completion of reconnaissance, the Battalion moved through BONY, GOUY and LE CATELET en-route for the line which was eventually taken over from units of 50th Division in the LE CATELET-NAUROY Line.|
|5th Oct||LE CATELET – NAUROY LINE: The Battalion relieved a Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers in the LE CATELET – NAUROY LINE. The Battalion advanced with "C" and "D" Companies in the vanguard and "B" & "A" Companies in close support. The advanced troops came in contact with enemy infantry at a point 300 yards South-East of AUBENCHEUL-AUX-BOIS. Here the enemy made a stand using his Machine Guns and Artillery freely, therefore, it was decided to halt and consolidate the ground gained.|
|6th Oct||Near AUBENCHEUL-AUX-BOIS [Approx:- T.19.b. Sheet 57.b.,S.W] The 17th Battalion R.W.F. having occupied AUBENCHEUL-AUX-BOIS during the nigh this unit moved forward in the direction of VILLERS OUTREAUX, two platoons being sent forward to occupy a Sunken Road South West of VILLERS OUTREAUX and a Quarry East of AUBENCHEUL. This was successfully accomplished and in the night a platoon was pushed forward to a sunken portion of Road on the right, contact being maintained on right and left with Royal Munster Fusiliers and 17th Battalion R.W.F. respectively. This position was consolidated and during the night patrols were sent out who after a careful reconnaissance, reported the enemy position as being very strongly held by machine guns and fortified by all means used in modern warfare, the barbed wire being very conspicuous in its numerous belts of thickness not hitherto encountered in such a quantity.|
|7th Oct||Near VILLERS OUTREAUX: Battalion near VILLERS OUTREAUX. The enemy Artillery and Machine Gun fire on Battalion front was fairly heavy. The Royal Munster Fusiliers on the right attacked VILLERS FARM at dawn but failed to take it. The Battalion was ordered to move into assembly position preparatory to attacking the ground East of VILLERS OUTREAUX in a North Easterly direction. The Battalion moved off at 8.30 p.m. and successfully assembled in its position by 00.55 hours, 8th October.|
|8th Oct||Near VILLERS OUTREAUX: [approx. T.20 & 26. Sheet 57.B., S.W]. Battalion near VILLERS OUTREAUX. The Battalion attacked in a N.E. direction, the object being to cut off VILLERS OUTREAUX from the EAST. ZERO HOUR – 01.00 hours – "A" and "B" Companies were the leading Companies with "C" and "D" in close support. Almost immediately after the attack commenced, our troops were obstructed by a formidable belt of Barbed Wire. This obstacle was brilliantly surmounted by the dash and high morale of our Officers and men with the result that the objective was partially gained. Groups of men who had lost direction owing to the darkness were collected by the Officers and taken back to re-organise. Later in the day, these men mere taken forward to the objective which the remainder of the Battalion had reached. Major J.H.F. Monteith was in Command here of our troops who had successfully reached the objective on first occasion. On arrival of the remainders the whole Battalion was reorganised, meanwhile the 114th Infantry Brigade had leapfrogged, passing through our Battalion and attacking the WALINCOURT LINE, capturing MALINCOURT and passing through the WALINCOURT LINE with but very little opposition from the enemy. At 16.00 hours the Battalion moved off by Companies in Artillery formation in a N.E. direction, on arrival at a point about one mile S.E. of MALINCOURT, the Battalion halted and dug in, staying there for the night.|
|9th Oct||[approx.. U.13. Sheet 57.b, S.W]: The Battalion one mile S.E. of MILANCOURT. The 33rd Division, having passed through our Division in pursuit of the enemy, our Division were thus placed in Support with orders to move at one hour's notice. No orders being received during the day, the Battalion spent the night in the same position.|
|10th Oct||Near MILANCOURT [approx. U.13 Sheet 57.b, S.W.]: The Battalion one mile S.E. of MILANCOURT. Orders having been received to advance, the Battalion passed the Starting Point at 15.30 hours en-route for CLARY. On arrival at this village, it was noted that many French civilians had defied the German order to evacuate. The civilians gave our troops a very enthusiastic reception, the tricolour being very conspicuous. Billets were occupied in CLARY at which place our troops stayed for the night.|
|11th Oct||CLARY [O.17. Sheet 57.b, S.W]: The Battalion at CLARY. The Battalion spent the day in this village, chiefly resting. In presence of our Brigadier-General (Brigadier-General H. De Pree), Lt.-Colonel A.L. Brown (under whose command the Battalion had been during the present operations) addressed each Company separately, thanking all ranks for their great and untiring efforts which were rewarded by the capture of ground to a depth of 12 miles, held by the enemy since 1914.|
CLARY, O.17. Sheet 57.b, S.W.: The Battalion at CLARY. The Battalion left CLARY at 10.45 hours for TROISVILLE, passing BERTY en-route. On arrival at TROISVILLE at 12.30 hours, and alarm Post was fixed upon and all concerned warned. The Battalion then entered billets at TROISVILLE at which place the night was spent. It may be here stated in a brief summary of our operations from the 1st inst. that the results achieved were greater than had ever before been the case with this front. Apart from huge military stores and material captured from the enemy, the enemy's best fortifications were wrested from him. This includes the much vaunted HINDENBURG LINE the invincibility of which he had openly boasted to the world. Artillery pieces and numerous Machine Guns were also captured. The prisoners captured shewed good morale throughout the operations. The total number captured by this [point] cannot be determined owing to the liquid state of the battle area, prisoners being passed to rear units as soon as captured. The loss of the undermentioned Officers and 196 O.R.s as killed and wounded is deeply regretted but sacrifices were willingly given in the true British spirit and perhaps, the happiest period of the advance occurred when the French civilians were released from the enemy's unscrupulous treatment. Lt. Colonel A.L. Bowen and all Officers & O.R.s of the Battalion were highly praised by the Divisional Commander for brilliant leadership and spirit of determination shewn, particularly in the attack on VILLERS OUTREAUX which was successfully taken.
|13th Oct||TROISVILLE [Sheet 57.b., N.E.]: The Battalion at TROISVILLE. At 16.45 hours, the Battalion proceeded to the Line, relieving a unit of the 33rd Division in sector of 1½ miles N.E. of LE CATEAU. This was completed successfully, whereupon, the Commanding Officer, Major A.R. Sykes, M.C., re-organised his front, placing "A" & "D" Companies in Front Line holding the Bridge Heads crossing the River SELLE. "B" & "C" Companies were placed in Support and reserve respectively. The re-organization was successfully carried out, there being no casualties. The 2nd R.W.F. were on our RIGHT and the 51st Brigade on our LEFT.|
|14th Oct||19.b.2.9. [Sheet 57b]: The Battalion in the Line.
There was no change on the Battalion Front during the night. With the exception of constant shelling of Battalion Headquarters which was situate at VAMBOURLIEUX FARM, the day passed away without incident of importance. In the afternoon the 51st Brigade on our left reported the evacuation by the enemy of NEUVILLY and BRIASTRE.
"C" & "B" Companies worked under the direction of the C.R.E. during the night, digging trenches. The Brigade on our left were relieved during the night with the result that a Battalion of the East Yorks linked up on our left Flank.
We now reach the time of Charles's death. Neither the battalion nor brigade diaries help us identify exactly when or where he was killed. Although a newspaper reports Charles died on 15 October, all official documents record his death as 16 October. Two possibilities present themselves: he was killed in the limited shelling of 10th SWB HQ, or the inter-Company reliefs that exposed him to sniper fire. The latter option is well documented on other occasions.
The battalion diary reads:
|Date||Summary events and Information|
|15th Oct||K.19.b.2.9. [Sheet 57.b]: The Battalion in the Line. Patrols reported the enemy as holding the Railway Embankment opposite our sector, in strength, being plentifully supplied with Machine Guns which are particularly active at night. The day passed away normally, Battalion Headquarters being the enemy's chief objective, this he shelled persistently with 77 & 105 M.M. shells.|
|16th Oct||K.19.b.2.9 [Sheet 57b]: The Battalion in the Line. Apart from the shelling of Battalion Headquarters with 77 m.m. and 15 c.m. shells, the enemy was quieter than usual. During the day, Inter-Company reliefs were carried out successfully, "B" Company relieving "D" Company and "C" Company relieving "A". "B" and "C" Companies becoming Right and Left Front-Companies respectively and "D" and "A" Companies support and Reserve, respectively.|
Charles was one of two men from 10th SWB to die that day. Just 26 days later the war would end.
|Faversham and North East Kent News of 16th November 1918|
TWO LYNSTED MEN
We regret also to record the deaths of two more men connected with Lynsted parish, namely, Sergt. Frederick Walter Wiles, London Scottish, and Lance-Corporal Charles Booker, S.W.B.
……….. Lance-Corporal Booker was for seven years Bailiff to Colonel MacDougall at Loyterton. The Sergeant of his platoon who wrote conveying the news of his death, stated that he was killed instantaneously on the night of October 15th. The Sergeant added: "All the boys and myself miss him very much as he was well liked in the Company. I found him one of the very best soldiers, who always did his duty with good cheer." Deceased was 34 years of age and leaves a wife and two children.
In 1920 Charles was exhumed from his original resting place (shown on the map below) and reburied in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Cross Roads Cemetery, Rue du Pont, Fontaine-au-Bois, Nord, France, Grave Ref: II. G. 20.
It is possible that Charles is the "C P Booker" remembered on the Portslade and West Hove War Memorial in Sussex. This is likely, as his father returned to Sussex after the war, where he died in 1928.
Charles was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]
In January 1919 his wife was paid his money owed of £21 0s 5d (£21.02p), which included his £12 War Gratuity. Taken together these amount to roughly £1,075 in today's money. [See Appendix 2]
Ellen, who was still living in Upper Tickham, re-married in 1920 to Frederick Linkin, who had also served in the war. In 1921 Ellen gave birth to another son, Arthur Frederick. They later moved to 4 Sunny Side, The Street, Doddington. Ellen died in 1972, aged 84.